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Mumbai, stop praising yourself

By Shishir Bhate
August 05, 2005 13:39 IST
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Rejoice, guys, Mumbai is back to normal.

Yes, we suffered our worst battering in over a 100 years, as nature let loose its gigantic water cannon on us. Hundreds died, thousands of cattle perished... death, destruction and desolation lorded over India's financial capital... but what the heck, the show goes on and things are normal. The television says so, the newspapers say so. Why, even my neighbour's kid says so. Everyone is saying things are back to normal. Must be true.

That's the spirit of the Mumbaikar. Come hell or high water, the city is back to normal faster than you can say 'monsoon.' So what if the civic authorities, the state government machinery, the city's disaster management plan (what's that?) failed miserably? Despite that the city's shrugged off its pain and is back to normal. Hail the Mumbaikar!

Cut the nonsense and offer Mumbai a chance

After the deluge, the roads resemble a craggy moonscape. But guess what? Mumbai is back to normal.

Doesn't matter if a 20-km drive takes you up to two hours to complete. What matters is life has so easily slipped back into routine.

What's the big deal if you have to weave your way round potholes to find the road you are driving on? After all, is not the city gathering pace despite the mauling nature handed it out?

So you are spending more time commuting to and fro the workplace than you spend at home? Wow, aren't you happy things are back to normal?

And don't you see the local trains plying? So what if each bursting bogie of every local train has three times the number of passengers stuffed into it than it can possibly accommodate? Mumbai's rolling!

The city's drainage system is woefully inadequate (and you can bet will remain so the next year too), but the rains have abated, the sun is shining, and there's a cheery glow on Mumbaikars' faces. Please clap, Mumbai is back to normal.

So plastic bags are choking our drains, eh? Chalta hai, yaar... So what if we are amongst the filthiest cities without much civic sense (what's that?).. at least we are back to normal... that's the spirit. Long live Mumbai!

When the next monster cloud decides to burst over Mumbai, we will show our wonderful spirit again and regain normalcy within no time.

Get angry, dammit and stay so

There's an epidemic lurking round the bend? Not to worry, we have a booster dose of our spirit... that's inoculation enough.

Hey, the stock markets have hit the stratosphere (at last count, the Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex was above 7800). The bullish stock market too reflects Mumbai's fabled resilience, as it cocks a snook at the latest tragedy to befall it. Cheer up, everything's normal.

Mumbaikars, here's more for you to rejoice about. Wikipedia says you account for 33 per cent of India's income tax collections, 60 per cent of customs duty revenue, 40 per cent of the nation's foreign trade and Rs 40,000 crore in corporate taxes.

And how much gets invested back in the city to develop its infrastructure? Not even 5 per cent. So what, isn't Mumbai India's financial powerhouse, the land where dreams come true, the hub of Indian economic activity?

In another six years, there will be almost 10 million more Mumbaikars. The more the merrier. The already overtaxed infrastructure will attain breaking point, you say? Don't lose sleep, our shining spirit will see us through. Soon thereafter, your city will be like Shanghai. Or Manhattan. Or Hong Kong... After all, we have been promised that.

And if that does not happen, we shouldn't pay taxes, you say? Yeah, sounds great. But this is what we will actually do about it: forget it and move on, of course. After all things are normal now, why bother?

Our spirit is rich, but our memory is poor.

So what is Mumbai's problem? It is this city's stoic acceptance of substandard things: substandard infrastructure, substandard politicians, substandard everything.

Mumbai suburbs need to break off

And what better way for politicians to get away without tackling the city's most significant problems than to pat the calamity-stricken Mumbaikar on his back and pronounce: 'Hail Mumbai and the spirit of the city's people. Even in the face of catastrophe, the city gets on its feet in a jiffy, dusts off its pants and gets going.'

True, the irrepressible spirit of the city's populace cannot be admired or praised enough. The Mumbaikar's resilience is phenomenal, but how about something more than a pat on the back and a lofty speech?

How about addressing the city's grievances? How about according people a decent, comfortable commute to and fro their work places? How about restraining the construction lobby's rapacious intentions? How about letting the city's natural defences be?

Help Mumbai!

Good infrastructure and superior town planning are vital for the safety of the citizens, stronger economic growth, higher productivity and competitiveness, and better standard of living. It's time we stopped praising our resilience at accepting the unacceptable. It's time we resolutely concentrated our energies in getting our due for the taxes we pay, in demanding a better life. Time to make it the jewel in the nation's crown in every sense of the word.

Till then, nothing will be normal.

Terrible Tuesday: Mumbai copes with a calamity


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Shishir Bhate